Yakitori chef preparing food in Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan © 2011 Jordan Harper. All rights reserved.

Chicken sashimi and shōchū

Day 2 — 30 July 2010

For most of our second day in Japan, we left the sleepy comforts of Ueno to explore the more central districts of Shibuya, Daikanyama, Aoyama, Harajuku and probably several more micro-districts whose names I don’t remember.

For all the supposed hustle and bustle of Shibuya (and its famous crossing) and Tokyo’s incredible array of huge stores, small boutiques and everything in between, I was pleasantly surprised to find it one of the most chilled out cities I’ve ever visited.

Despite the huge volume of people, it felt as though there was little hurrying — or at least, what hurrying there was went completely unnoticed — and the stores we visited were almost all calm, peaceful places with extraordinarily helpful, friendly and polite staff; augmented with none of the pushy-salesperson DNA that seems to be a prerequisite for most staff in the UK and Europe.

After a hard day’s shopping, there’s only really one thing to do: go on a rip-roaring nine-hour bender.

After meeting up with a good friend of mine (let’s call him Ben, because it’s his name) we headed to a nice little bar — whose name completely evades my memory — for a couple of beers and from there headed to a little yakitori spot. Yakitori is simply Japanese for ‘grilled chicken’ and in a typical yakitori restaurant, diners will sit at a u-shaped wooden bar (seen above) and order many different parts of the fowl to be charcoal grilled and eaten with a number of delicious condiments.

To the western palate it’s fair to say that some of the menu items may sound a little unappetising: from skewered chicken hearts (hatsu) or livers (rebā) to cartilage (nankotsu) and gizzards (sunagimo) — but it was not cooked meat that was the strangest thing we ate that evening (the hearts were actually fantastic).

When Ben ordered up a plate of chicken sashimi (raw, sliced chicken) I thought he was joking and steadfastly refused to entertain the notion of eating it. I don’t know if it was the beer, peer pressure or the locals eyeing me from across the bar, but I buckled and tucked in. It was actually pretty tasty: a lovely texture with a fairly neutral flavour (well, it is chicken). Would I eat it again? Ask me after a few beers on a hot night in Tokyo.

The only acceptable follow-up to eating raw chicken is to ensure that any bacteria ingested are thoroughly disabled by alcohol — four appropriately large glasses of shōchū (an alcoholic drink seemingly distilled from whatever the producer has to hand) appeared in due course. In the photo above you’ll see the chap opposite resting on one of the enormous bottles of ‘house’ shōchū — the proprietor almost emptied a whole bottle into the four glasses he poured for us.

It’s at this point that the evening becomes a little hazy. I remember an English-style pub in Ebisu run by a Japanese anglophile who once lived in Oxford; a sake bar nearby where we drank some truly unholy concoction (that tasted like no sake I’ve ever seen before or since) and then on to a karaoke bar in Meguro to sing and drink unlimited beer until the early hours of the morning. Before catching the first Yamanote-line train of the day back to Ueno (at 5:15am), we managed to squeeze in a McDonalds breakfast and — for reasons that to this day remain mysterious to me — I thought it would be a good idea to call my brother, a call that I later discovered cost me nearly £60.

After falling asleep on the Yamanote loop line (and thus doing a complete circuit and a half) we ended what was an unquestionably memorable 24 hours at around 6:30am. While in some respects the writing-off of the following day could be thought of as a waste when on a holiday, I’m firmly of the opinion that there’s no better way of wasting a day than by taking full advantage of the night before: and nobody can accuse us of not doing that.

I think I mentioned in my first post that I may not always be choosing the ‘best’ photograph I took each day, more shots that tell a story or bring back particular memories. I was hoping I’d go more than a day before having to test this conviction, but it seems not. You don’t get much more photographically ropey than an iPhone 3G shot in dim light, but after much deliberation, this was the only picture that felt right for this day.

2 Comments

  1. Jon-Halvor

    I’ll eat just about anything once, chicken sashimi sounds thoroughly wrong though. I think I’d need some alcoholic fuel first also.

    • Once you get over your squeamishness and take the plunge, it’s really no different from eating raw tuna or salmon, really. We’re just really conditioned to fear chicken.

      Chicken is served medium pretty much everywhere in Japan, I didn’t eat well-done chicken for the whole month we were there I don’t think.

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